I waited in the Arrivals terminal at Toronto International Airport. Incoming flights were posted on the board; people with luggage trolleys, children in wheelchairs, or being carried, elderly people, alone or in groups were spilling into the arrival’s areas.
Some eagerly looking in the crowd for the friends or family waiting for them and others looking confidently, or sometimes nervously straight ahead.
The flight from Manchester was on the board. Ken had landed. It had been a few months since I had seen my brother. I was glad he still felt able to travel. He had always liked Toronto.
I checked my watch; hopefully he’s OK. He gets confused; last time he visited I was working. I arranged a taxi to pick him up from the airport and take him to a friend’s house. He knew her and liked her. She directed him to my work.
Something went wrong, he got confused and she ended up driving him and together they found me. From his background of being a triathlete, he was a slow, 59-year-old, slightly stooped walker with a propensity to fall.
There was no sign of him. New flights were coming in. Then I get a text. ‘Where was I?’ he asked. I phoned “I’m waiting in Arrivals for you”. But I’m in arrivals, he said in exasperation. He explained that he had his case and was looking for me. “Ken, you need to follow the signs and go through passport control? I’m on the other side of passport control.”
The term “Invisible disability” wasn’t mentioned 12 years ago. Also, the term Autism hadn’t been mentioned to Ken, and he had forgotten about the severe head injury he had sustained when a teenager. He did know he had multiple sclerosis (MS).
What does the term ‘invisible disabilities’ mean?
‘Invisible disabilities’ may be called ‘non-visible’ or ‘hidden disabilities’.
A child or adult may have a neurological, mental, or physical condition that is not apparent.
Examples include autism, epilepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, sensory processing disorder, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, anxiety, and brain injury.
What is the sunflower lanyard?
One way of bringing invisible disability awareness is to learn about the sunflower lanyard. The sunflower represents hidden disabilities; people who wear the lanyard can let people know that they have a hidden disability. This might include shops or other public spaces including airports.
Toronto Pearson was the first airport in Canada to offer the Sunflower Program for passengers with invisible disabilities.
A few days ago, I was at Newcastle airport, wearing my sunflower lanyard. I was looking for a gluten free sandwich, essential for my coeliac disease. I had help in no time.
I flew to Palma airport. The passport line was heaving. I had my documents and was ready for a long wait. Me and a few others were pulled aside to a shorter line. We were all wearing our sunflower lanyards.
I have MS. As well as fatigue, brain fog at times, double vision, I stumble and too many times walk in completely the wrong direction. If only the sunflower lanyard had been available for my brother.
Long Covid, a topic written about several times on the Bylines network is an invisible disability.
Long Covid is an invisible disability.
Long Covid comes with a number of symptoms including chronic fatigue, brain fog, pain and breathing difficulties. Many of these symptoms are hidden or ‘invisible’. You can read more on Long Covid in the link below.
Why is Invisible Disabilities Week celebrated?
Invisible Disabilities Week aims to foster the awareness of invisible disabilities. According to twinkl:
“This event is held to help bring invisible disability awareness in the UK and around the world. It allows people to understand the different types of conditions that people manage on a daily basis. People can become more accepting of others and aware of their needs, which can break down barriers and unhealthy stereotypes relating to these conditions.”
“It can help people to feel valued, and give them a voice if they feel they’re not represented in society or listened to. It can also give them the confidence to seek support in public places or while travelling, as more companies are training staff on how to help people with invisible disabilities.”
Click here to find the Invisible Disability Association